Anchorage Mayor’s Race: Ethan Berkowitz
KTVA News invited every registered candidate running in the upcoming Anchorage mayoral race to an on-camera interview at our studios. We also asked each candidate to submit a 300-word biography, along with a 500-word written commentary on the following topics:
- Combating crime in Anchorage
- Plans for public safety
- Budget challenges
- Addressing homelessness in Anchorage
Ethan Berkowitz’s responses are below:
I am proud to have been an Anchorage resident since 1990. I met my wife Mara here, at the old Fly by Night Club. Now our two kids benefit from our city’s public school system and many of the other opportunities Anchorage provides.
When I first arrived in Anchorage, I worked as a lawyer in the state criminal appeals court. I then became an Anchorage-based prosecutor in the District Attorney’s office. After my time as a prosecutor, I was honored to represent West Anchorage in the Alaska House of Representatives for 10 years. During my tenure I led efforts to expand Alaska’s energy development, diversify our economy while also championing fiscal responsibility.
Currently, I work with a firm that focuses on strategic positioning. I had an instrumental role in the Pilgrim Hot Springs geothermal project located just outside of Nome. I’ve also been a small business owner and partner in several sectors of Anchorage’s economy ranging from restaurants and real estate. I was a founding entrepreneur to expand Alaska’s fiber optic Internet access too but I bet many of you recognize me from my voice: I have recently co-hosted a radio talk show, “Bernadette and Berkowitz”.
Like many Anchorage residents, I enjoy Anchorage’s unique recreational and cultural opportunities, whether it’s skiing on the Coastal Trail (when there’s actually snow), or ice-skating on Westchester Lagoon. In the summer, family hikes in the Chugach range are a must. My family and I recognize how lucky we are to live in this amazing city.
A safe city is a vibrant city. Crime has been at the forefront of the public’s mind, and rightfully so. We need to take this seriously, but also approach it with confidence. As mayor, I will work with educators, community leaders, business owners and public safety officers to help solve these complex problems.
As a former prosecutor, I also believe in a strategy that links prevention, policing and prosecution to reduce crime rates and recidivism. We need to start by investing in our police force. Anchorage police officers and firefighters are spread too thin, which means fewer officers on the street and fewer dispatchers available to answer your calls. Falling below staffing standards compromises both public safety and officer safety. Anchorage lost 38 officers last year and we now have the lowest number of officers on the street since 2005. This is unacceptable. Its also costing the city in overtime pay and putting officer safety at risk. We need to stop playing politics with our public safety employees and hire, train, and retain more officers and firefighters. A proactive approach leads to a safer community – a reactive one simply responds to emergencies.
Once we restore Anchorage’s police and fire staffing levels, we need to get back to community policing where officers are assigned a neighborhood beat and have the time to build relationships with neighborhood leaders, businesses, and residents. More time in our neighborhoods allows officers stop crime before it starts.
The third leg of the stool is prosecution. For Anchorage to reduce its crime rates we must ensure swift and certain prosecution. Too often, those awaiting trials in our back-logged court system get out of jail and repeat their crimes. Swift prosecution is a powerful deterrent, especially when we partner with federal and state agencies. Successful prosecution also includes rehabilitation efforts that eliminate the revolving door – it means drug and alcohol treatment and workforce development, so that offenders can become contributing members of society.
One area where all of these strategies must be focused is combatting domestic violence. Anchorage statistics on domestic violence and sexual assault are shocking; more than 50 percent of Anchorage women are survivors of an intimate partner or sexual crime. In particular, our city must address human and sex trafficking crimes by recognizing the nature and severity of these offenses.
As Mayor, I will work with law enforcement agencies, the justice system and advocates to lower these devastating crime rates. I will make sure that survivors of these crimes have access to critical support services. These include access to safe and secure housing, medical and legal services, and job training and placement. As a father and a former prosecutor, I know firsthand how important this is, and how vital it is that our city is capable of dealing effectively and swiftly with offenders to make sure that all residents of Anchorage are safe.
Successful public safety depends on community involvement, it more than just a police and fire responsibility. As mayor, I will take a comprehensive approach to improving public safety. I will partner with private and non-profit partners and use the other Municipal tools such as code enforcement, economic development, civil enforcement, social services and youth programs to promote safe neighborhoods.
Mayors who understand each piece of this puzzle and bring everyone to the table demonstrate the leadership needed to make Anchorage safer. We need to make sure our neighborhoods have the right mix of business and residential to create visible activity that deters crime. We must also make sure our neighborhoods have safe streets, good lighting, and smart traffic flow to reduce crime risk.
Second, we need to help every Anchorage student succeed in school. The “90 by 2020” campaign is a great example of how public-private partnerships can strengthen community support for our young people. Their efforts have helped increase Anchorage’s attendance and graduation rates. Keeping kids in school and making sure they graduate with the skills to secure a good job will put them on a healthy productive path instead of turning to crime. We need to expand youth programs, like the successful Youth Employment in Parks, to give young people a productive way to spend the summer and learn job skills. And, we need to continue support for Anchorage’s public libraries and recreation centers.
Third, we must do a better job working with business owners and property owners to be partners in public safety. This means cracking down on scofflaws whose properties are repeat calls for police for drug, alcohol and prostitution. We should promote appropriate lighting and security systems would help deter crime. The city also needs to work with bar owners improve late night public safety during the “bar break” hours in Anchorage. The Assembly created a safety hour that allows bars to stay open an extra hour but not serve alcohol. We should encourage more bars to adopt this policy. We need to strengthen the partnership between APD, the ABC Board and downtown licensees to establish better security standards and practices.
While Anchorage’s economy is strong, our state faces significant budget challenges. For Anchorage, this could mean the loss of about $14 million in Municipal Revenue Sharing, as well as cuts to the State’s operating and capital budget. We already know the State is cutting State Troopers from Girdwood. Overcoming these challenges will require creative, energetic leadership from the Mayor. As your mayor, I will use my business background and experience with the state budget and provide government based on results to grow our economy and make budgetary reductions.
Fortunately, Anchorage has diverse revenue streams, from property taxes, car rental and hotel room taxes, and federal grants. We need to make sure the Anchorage economy remains strong so these revenues are stable. This means supporting Anchorage’s air cargo and tourism industries that create one out of every five jobs here. We also need to support the Alaska Native Corporations and oil and gas development to ensure this sector of Anchorage’s economy is growing. It means examining Municipal assets to determine whether they are being managed efficiently and effectively.
We must also take a look at our budget to trim where necessary and rein in projects, like SAP, whose budget has ballooned from the original $8 million to over $30 million. I understand Anchorage residents worked hard to earn the money they pay in property taxes – that’s why I am committed to protect and spend it wisely. As mayor, I will aggressively review city projects like SAP to get them on track and back on budget. I will also look for creative cost saving, like putting LED lighting in more of Anchorage. We installed LEDs in 5000 lights already, saving approximately $2 million a year. If we finished the job on the remaining 15,000, we could save millions more each year.
We need to be smart about how we pay for things, and with intelligent money management we can get more from Municipal funds. My fundamental rule is not to buy what I can’t pay for, and that applies to the city as well. Given our strong bond rating and the current low interest rates, bonds should be part of the overall budget. We also need to expand public-private partnerships like the Anchorage Park Foundation and the Anchorage Library Foundation to attract private support for Anchorage parks and libraries that make this an attractive city for families and business leaders. That model highlights why it is also important to see whether there are particular city or state barriers inhibiting the flow of private money into public projects.
Addressing the Homeless:
Our current approach has not resolved the issue. Homelessness takes many forms. It’s not just limited to people seeking shelter on the streets and in parks. It can be whole families couching surfing. It’s young couples moving in an out of temporary housing programs. It’s our veterans and seniors. Too many reports sit on shelves gathering dust – it’s far past time to act.
Reducing homelessness is the right, moral thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do. Reducing chronic homelessness in Anchorage will save upwards of $2 million dollars. The best tool to combat chronic homelessness is the “Housing First” model. As mayor, I would work with our governor and legislators to provide stable funding for Karluk Manor. This is just the first step, because as a city we must seek out more public and private funds to expand these programs and save taxpayers dollars.
The fact that we have veterans living on our streets is galling. Those who served our nation deserve better. The mayor needs to work with agencies at all levels to increase the available housing vouchers for our veterans and their families. Once we secure more vouchers we have to increase the efficiency of processing and finding permanent homes, so our vets are not simply moving from shelter to shelter.
The business community has the potential to be a huge partner in this effort and as mayor I would seek to jumpstart this partnership. Anchorage has a serious housing shortage. Families searching for affordable housing run into our extremely low vacancy rate, hovering around 2 percent. It’s hard for our middle class families to find a first home or move up to a larger rental space. Even units originally intended for lower-income residents are becoming more and more expensive. Some reports show that Anchorage will need 18,000 more units to accommodate the 2030-projected population. That boils down to an additional 900 units a year; we need to act quickly to make this happen. I will streamline the permitting process and help create new incentives to attract private sector development for affordable housing, multifamily housing and renovations. If this means selling some municipal land, I will. If this means cutting the red tape I spoke of before, I will. If this means reforming the Anchorage Community Development Authority so that it realizes its full potential, I will do that too.
The questions you’ve asked here cut to the root of Anchorage’s challenges: building affordable housing, reducing substance abuse, growing and diversifying our economy, keeping our community safe, and fighting for education and public safety. As Anchorage’s mayor I will work every day to make sure our city is safer, stronger, and more secure.
Open Topic: Building a Strong Economy
As Anchorage plans for its 100th anniversary, we must learn from our past. It’s times like this that we must be forward thinking and not reactionary. Anchorage must diversify its economy. We have to prepare to succeed, which means making sure we have the necessary infrastructure, education and business support. We have to keep a lid on property taxes for small business owners. As mayor, I would work to scale back regulatory and administrative barriers to entry. In turn, this provides certainty and risk abatement which helps stimulate business development and growth. To attract new and expand and expand retail, tourism, and high-tech businesses, particularly when there are value-added opportunities involving Alaska’s resources. I’ve worked as a small businessman, and put together large projects as well; I know what it feels like to wade through the red tape and struggle with offices that should be supporting our economy.
As a city, it’s imperative that we invest in workforce development. This investment in our future will help large and small companies hire skilled and affordable employees and it will give our residents the best shot at building the lives they want. Our universities are an essential part of this plan. Along with higher education, we need to invest in our trades and expand our successful apprenticeship programs.
We must also listen to our young families looking for homes to raise their families. I will invest our resources in housing projects, championing local, reliable energy sources and supporting locally grown food. Many investments will not yield their full returns if we have a crumbling infrastructure. As mayor, I will make sure that we have the right upkeep on our roads and bridges. I will also help drive innovation in our broadband capacity and make sure we can compete in the knowledge economy.
Over my 20 years of public service, I have consistently recognized that ours is a resource development state and that we can control our own destiny when we have the ability to develop our oil and gas resources. As Anchorage’s mayor, I will work with state and federal leaders to ensure we extract our resources in a responsible, sustainable manner and that Alaskans derive the maximum benefit from the resources.
The election to determine Anchorage’s next mayor is April 7, 2015. If no candidate receives at least 45 percent of the vote, a runoff election will take place at a later date.